How it felt to hope for a miracle

'It eats me up that options may soon be available that will come just too late for me.'
'It eats me up that options may soon be available that will come just too late for me.' Photo: Stocksy

Sometimes it takes barely a moment for a lifetime of dreams to be shattered.

For me and my husband Jonny that moment came in 2013, in the consulting room of a gynaecologist we were seeing to investigate excruciating abdominal pain and ask why I was struggling to get pregnant.

Frantic Googling had me convinced I had endometriosis, a condition affecting the womb lining that makes it difficult to conceive, but I thought that it could be fixed – until a laparoscopic investigation confirmed that my womb effectively looked like a war zone. "I think," the consultant said, "that you are going to find it impossible to have children naturally."

At the time I refused to believe him, although Jonny saw the future right away: he nearly fainted, collapsing on to a chair with his head in his hands. Even he could not have envisaged the heartache that would follow.

It has taken four years, tens of thousands of dollars on gruelling, fruitless cycles of IVF, and endless soul-baring conversations for Jonny and I to come to terms with the fact that we may never hold our own baby.

It's been an arduous journey, and one I have, latterly, shared through my work on radio, covering my own experiences and those of people who have found different ways to become the family unit they have yearned for.

Making the series, and receiving the hundreds of letters and emails that have resulted – about 300 within the first week after the first episode – has made me realise both the extent of infertility, and its corrosive effect.

I can understand the agony of generations before me, for whom the "miracle" of IVF came too late, as I watch technology march on, in turn. Earlier this year we learnt of the prospect of "three-person babies", born using a donor egg but with some of the biological mother's DNA. At the moment, it will be restricted to those with genetic conditions, but I sense that won't last forever. It eats me up that options may soon be available that will come just too late for me.

No-one can prepare you for the anger, regret and thwarted dreams that come with infertility, particularly if you grew up assuming you would be a mother one day.


I met my wonderful husband Jonny when I was 27, and we were the golden couple: madly in love, great family, friends and flourishing careers. Neither of us questioned that we would have a family. Even the fact that I'd had years of heavy periods and stomach pains that had required endless hospital investigations didn't worry me. Astonishingly, it was never suggested that my problems might be gynaecological. If anything, I assumed, following our marriage in November 2012, that I would become pregnant immediately: it had happened to my two best friends and in my naive, wildly optimistic mind there seemed no reason why I wouldn't follow suit.

So when, after three months of trying, nothing had happened I was already worried. Call it instinct but we made a private appointment pretty quickly, a decision that led to the bombshell that I had endometriosis so severe the cysts were everywhere.

It turned out to be the least of my problems: further investigations revealed that, at 30, I had the egg count of a 50-year-old. It meant the only way forward was IVF, yet while this was daunting I was oddly full of hope: I had read so many uplifting stories. Jonny was equally positive.

That all changed when, two weeks after our first round of IVF in April 2014, I had a negative pregnancy test and my dreams came crashing down.

Several horrendous days followed as Jonny and I tried to come to terms with the fact that the magic wand of IVF had not produced our baby, not to mention "un-telling" family and friends. I remember finding Jonny in a heap on the floor as he spoke to his mum on the phone. It was only the start: five further IVF attempts followed, privately at a cost of nearly $100,000, all of them resulting in naught. Over three years, my life shrunk to the two weeks between implantation and test, and the undulating cycle of paranoia, hope and fear that goes with it. I went from the life and soul at children's parties to not being able to go at all.

Every pregnancy announcement felt like an assault, particularly if it came from a couple who, like us, had been struggling to conceive. I would wonder why they had been saved from a burning building while Jonny and I were left trapped inside.

Some days I struggled to leave the house, unable to cope with the prospect of seeing a pregnant belly.

My hopes were really crushed by the third failed cycle of IVF, this one at a wonder clinic that promised to double our chances courtesy of their fancy drug regime. They collected one egg and it didn't even fertilise.

That's when I fell to pieces. I felt like I'd failed as a woman, as a wife, as a daughter: as an only child, I wanted to give my parents a grandchild. To this day I know Mum avoids the children's section in department stores, though she would never tell me this herself.

More than anything, I felt I was letting Jonny down. Usually we were able to prop each other up, but this time he admitted he wanted to throw in the towel – an admission that broke me. We would sit up until 3am and talk endlessly about what we were going to do – how many IVF attempts is too many? Should we give up and move overseas?

We are lucky. One in three couples split up due to the agony of infertility, but for all the despair, our struggle brought us closer and our marriage remains not just solid but happy.

Our compromise was that we would stop the IVF when I turned 35. That took us to six attempts, the last in July last year, which ended with another failed pregnancy test, six weeks before my 35th birthday.

It was the end of hope. Yet by then I had started to make radio series, recording our own final IVF cycle, and meeting others who have found a different path to parenthood, and it proved a comfort knowing that there were other ways for us to be a family. All the while, the prospect of new fertility treatments bob up on the horizon – baby boats that may come too late to carry me.

Ultimately I still hope a miracle might happen. But if it doesn't, whatever route we take to become parents, making this series has shown me that we do have choices. Above all, we can choose to be happy.

Sophie Sulehria's IVF journey has been documented for BBC Radio 4 in the UK. You can listen to the recordings here.

The Sunday Telegraph, London